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Pay attention

By Erin Kirsten Stein
Arizona Daily Wildcat
April 23, 1999
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Arizona Daily Wildcat

Erin Kirsten Stein

Two high school boys, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, killed 13 fellow students, a teacher and themselves. They also injured at least 16 others, who remain hospitalized.

Why does this keep happening? Why are kids killing?

As the clues are pieced together a picture emerges of a group of teenagers who were different, apparently ignored by the other students and the teachers. And possibly ignored by their parents.

Which is the problem with our world today and one that results in such terrible violence. We ignore our kids. We ignore our youth. We treat them like dumb babies who can't figure anything out for themselves.

They are "kids," what do they know?

Kids know a lot more than we give them credit for. They know enough to make pipe bombs and plant them around the school and in cars. They know enough to kill 15 and injure 16 others. They know enough to ruin a community's sense of safety.

If you ignore kids long enough, they will make you pay attention. That's all kids ever want, is attention and love. But working parents are too busy and teachers have 30 kids at a time to deal with, so kids get passed over.

Some kids respond by striving to overachieve, they think getting perfect grades and scholarships will finally get them attention. Others respond in the opposite vein, thinking that maybe someone will notice if they're flunking out of school.

And the reality is that school is a child's entire world. What happens at school is of ultimate importance to them, yet adults dismiss it routinely. They think, "kids don't have any real responsibility, they don't have to work, they just go to school everyday."

School is not a safe haven in today's world. A child's world can crumble if they are the object of relentless teasing and if no one will befriend them. School is a social war zone that can turn into an actual deadly war, with real guns.

Why did no one notice the trenchcoat mafia? Apparently, everyone did. According to Associated Press stories the trenchcoat mafia showed up for a fight against the jocks armed with brass knuckles and swords. Fortunately, they were late and the fight never took place. These kids wore berets with Nazi crosses, made a school video bragging about their guns.

Why the hell didn't anyone notice and do something?

Probably, and sadly, because no one wanted to deal with them. And everyone thinks problems will go away if you ignore them.

These students went ignored. All their cries for attention were unheard, so ultimately they had to use actual violence to broadcast a message, any message.

Why didn't teachers and counselors pay attention to these kids and try to get to know them? Because they were afraid.

The Columbine High School choir teacher told the Denver Rocky Mountain News, "They were extremely bright, but not good students. They disliked authority. They did not like to be told what to do."

Adults impose a superficial authority over kids, just because they're adults. As soon as an adult makes a mistake, all faith is lost in his/her power and kids resent it. Obviously, these teen-agers lost all faith in authority, and teachers knew it, yet no one reached out to them as equals.

High school does not usually offer much of a mental challenge to very bright students. If these two boys were as smart as everyone says they were, they probably had to turn to alternate activities to exercise their minds. Like maintaining their own web site. Building bombs. Planning a killing spree.

Kids and adults need to be fellow human beings who respect each other as equals.

Please, get to know kids. Try to understand their world. Don't let them be so far alienated that their only way out is violence. Don't let anger and resentment snowball until it explodes in violence.

A fellow student of the pair, interviewed on CNN, said he knew the two boys last semester. "The first thing I thought was: Eric, Dylan, why'd you do this?" The second thought that crossed his mind was, "hey, you guys finally did it."

They finally sent a message that no one will ever forget.